I-TEAM: Younger children often abducted right in front of a parent

What you need to know to help your children evade abduction

The I-TEAM's Jennifer Waugh looks into where, when, what age and the tricks kidnappers use to lure children. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there were 600 attempted abductions in 2020 and those are just the ones that were reported.

While you might assume these happen when a child is alone, the center’s analysis of hundreds of abductions reveals younger children are more likely to be kidnapped or the victim of an attempted kidnapping when a parent or an adult is with them.

“I think that parents don’t think that it can happen to them and that is exactly what happened with my parents back in 1981 when my brother, Adam, was kidnapped and murdered in South Florida,” said Callahan Walsh, a child advocate for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Walsh’s father, John, started the center after Adam’s death.

Adam Walsh was 6 years old when he was murdered. He was playing video games at a kiosk inside the Hollywood Mall in Hollywood, Florida, with a group of other boys while his mother stepped into a store. When she returned, Adam was gone. His severed head was discovered 2 weeks later. Police say, Otis Toole, a convicted serial killer from Jacksonville, confessed to Adam’s murder, but later recanted.

RELATED: Adam Walsh murder changed Florida and the US

Callahan Walsh and his father have dedicated their lives to educating parents about the risks of abductions -- and how to prevent them.

“Many parents think they live in a safe community or a good area, there is no way something like this could happen. What we see, time and time again, abductions are rare, but they do happen and they happen all over this country and in all sorts of different areas,” said Callahan Walsh.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has created the KidSmartz program to help parents or guardians with younger children teach their children about staying safe. It’s designed for kids who are between the ages of kindergarten and fifth grade and establishes four rules of personal safety:

  • Check first: Tell your child to check with a parent or guardian before going anywhere or accepting anything from an adult.
  • Take a friend
  • Tell people NO: Teach your child it is OK to tell an adult, “NO,” if that person makes the child feel sad, scared, confused, uncomfortable or that person tries to take your child somewhere.
  • Tell a trusted adult if someone does grab your child or touches them inappropriately.

Callahan Walsh said those conversations should be frequent and simple, not scary, for elementary-aged children.

Be sure to join us later today, for our I-TEAM investigation: Evading Abduction on the news at 5 p.m. We reveal when your child or teen is most likely to be approached by a predator and where. We’ll also explain the specific age kidnappers are targeting and how your child’s backpack and the pictures you post on social media could be making it easier for bad people to hone in on your student.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.